I realised that I have not written my own newsletter now for a year, as the last two communications have been conjoint ones with my two London MEP colleagues John Bowis and Syed Kamall. Syed has completed his first year and has proven a very worthy successor to Theresa Villiers who has gone on to a glittering front bench career in the House of Commons. We work well as a London MEP team as our political interests and specialties complement each other. London remains the most vibrant and exciting UK regional constituency to represent as an MEP.
The capital enjoys the most significant infrastructure projects from the recent completion of Wembley stadium to the imminent inauguration of Terminal 5 at Heathrow and the huge Olympic project scheduled for 2012. John and I recently officially visited the magnificent tribute to British engineering, the Thames Barrier, to understand better the risks posed by flooding to our great city.
London has always been remarkably cosmopolitan as a legacy of empire but recently it has become also a remarkably mixed "European" city with the recent arrival of so many new eastern Europeans. I now hear almost more Polish spoken at times on the tube than the traditional southern and longstanding European immigrant community languages like Greek, Italian or Portuguese. It will be an important task for us MEPs and all other London politicians to connect with these newly arrived communities. Once we have selected our winning candidate this summer to take on Mayor Livingstone in 2008, I will be raising this issue with him (or her!).
As you know David Cameron has pledged that after 2009 the Conservative MEPs will form a new centre right group in the European Parliament and with this goal in mind he launched on the 7th March the Movement for European Reform in Brussels which I attended, alongside Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek and former President of Bulgaria Petar Stoyanov.
David Cameron focused on the "3 Gs" in which he believes the EU has a positive role to play namely: managing economic globalisation; global environmental challenges in particular global warming; and global poverty relief with particular focus on Africa. Thus he argued for reform of CAP, delivering on the EU´s Lisbon Agenda to deregulate and promote freeing-up of markets and support for Chancellor Merkel's big idea of a Transatlantic Free Trade Area with the USA. He argued for further enlargement to the western Balkans and beyond to create a wider looser Europe of nation states and for repatriating powers to member states, in particular our Conservative election pledge on EU social and employment legislation.
He has set a challenging agenda for the 2009 Euroelection and we MEPs will help play a role in seeking new partners for this core Conservative reformist policy approach.
My Role as UK Conservative Foreign Affairs Spokesman
My biggest recent challenge has been my role as Shadow Rapporteur on the Kashmir Report. I had to work with the Rapporteur Baroness (Emma) Nicholson MEP to digest over 400 amendments to produce compromises acceptable to all sides of this divide, which pitted British MEPs cross-party against each other, depending on their views on India and Pakistan. Although I am an unapologetic "Friend of India" and recently visited its part of Jammu & Kashmir as a guest of the Government of India, my priority was always to ensure a fair and balanced document.
The objective therefore was not to try and internationalise with EU interference what is essentially a bilateral Indo-Pakistani dispute, but to promote democracy and human rights particularly where totally lacking such as in the northern areas of Gilgit and Baltistan on the Pakistani side of the Line of Control in Kashmir, to fight against Jihadi terrorist cross border infiltration, to oppose corruption and mismanagement of the relief effort in Kashmir's devastating earthquake and to demand accountability on the Indian side over allegations of atrocities committed by their armed forces.
The report was passed with an overwhelming majority in the Foreign Affairs committee and goes to plenary in May. This April, President Kalam of India will visit the Parliament and I have been honoured with an invitation to the official dinner in recognition of my role as founder of the "Friends of India in the European Parliament" and my support generally to India as the world's largest secular democracy now busy negotiating a Free Trade deal with the EU.
My other big preoccupation has been EU and UK Russia relations. Before Christmas, I visited Moscow, shortly after the Litvinienko murder and just as Shell was being squeezed out of its Sakhalin II oil fields, accompanying two Westminster MPs at the invitation of the ruling party "United Russia". I will be back again with the European Parliament after Easter. Russia is again a big global player with a trillion dollar economy, supplies 30% of Europe's gas and is prepared to use its oil and gas as foreign policy weapons. There are parliamentary elections in December and President Putin departs next year so it is important that we Conservatives have a deep knowledge of the Russian bear.
The West needs a strong and united Russia which cooperates with us in the UN Security Council in areas like reining in Iran in its quest for nuclear weapons and we need Russia as a partner in the Quartet to promote peace between Israel and the Arab world. But we also want to prevent Russia sliding into authoritarianism, high level corruption and organised crime. The EU is negotiating a new partnership agreement with Russia and we must be tough in the negotiations, as they need our markets to sell their oil and gas to.
Other areas I have been active on have been calling for tough EU sanctions against Iran over its defiance of the UN over persistent uranium enrichment. I am also following the Kosovo independence debate, but there is the risk of causing repercussions for other countries with breakaway territories, and it could exacerbate the instability within Serbia's fragile democracy, still coming to terms with the separation from Montenegro. We do not want more bloodshed in the western Balkans!
Future Direction of Europe
The EU in its various guises from European Economic Community in 1957 to today's European Union celebrates 50 years this year. It is not greatly loved for sure, especially in the UK, but even its worse critics will admit it has been a unique experiment in supranational co-operation which has now expanded to reunite the whole of Europe with 27 member states and now, following Bulgaria's and Romania's recent smooth accession, this January has almost 500 million people enjoying high standards of living, human rights and democracy.
Nevertheless the current German Presidency under Chancellor Merkel is very keen to resuscitate the rejected EU Constitution. The truth is the EU is working fine without it and although I accept we may need a mini Treaty as articulated by Sarkozy in France to for instance reweigh voting strengths in favour of big countries, we do not need a fully fledged Constitution and Conservatives have pledged that any net transfer of powers to Brussels will require the express consent of the British people in a Referendum. Prime Minster Blair may agree to something like the Constitution and then leave it to his successor Gordon Brown to pick-up the pieces at the planned for IGC. Your MEPs will be watching this space with interest.
In the meantime I wish you and your families all a very Happy Easter 2007